Tendai Rupapa in MARONDERA
Zimbabwe is poised to open its first ever female open prison in Marondera, perhaps the only one in Southern Africa, as it keeps abreast with changes in global trends in the rehabilitation of prisoners. At present, the country only has Connemara Open Prison for men just outside Gweru. Inmates at an open prison are allowed to go home and spend time with their family members and relatives.
They are also given opportunities to engage in various rehabilitation activities and programmes in a less restrictive environment.
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa was appointed patron of the Female Open Prison Foundation in recognition of her mission to uplift and empower the country’s womenfolk.
Through her Angel of Hope Foundation, the First Lady vowed to continue working closely with the female inmates and initiating income-generating projects for them.
Amai Mnangagwa has a passion for the economic advancement of women and has traversed the length and breadth of the country setting up projects for them.
Speaking at a ground-breaking ceremony for a state-of-the-art female open prison facility here yesterday, Amai Mnangagwa described women as an important and sensitive constituency within communities whose roles demand that they be in constant touch with the family and community as opposed to outright incarceration.
“Females or mothers in general, and by the nature of their matrimonial roles and instincts are the custodians of our ubuntu/hunhu, family fabric and unit. The establishment of the female open prison would be quite conducive for promoting and maintaining such family fabric and unit given that this would provide them with more time and opportunities to be in touch with children and families apart from aiding their rehabilitation and reintegration given that such an institution would at most be serving as a halfway home,” she said.
The idea of an open prison in Zimbabwe got Cabinet approval in 1996 and this ushered in the opening of Connemara Male Open Prison near Gweru, with the first inmates taking occupation in year 2000.
The open prison concept is gaining popularity worldwide because it helps in reducing overcrowding in jails, the construction cost is fairly reduced and the operational cost of open prisons is far less than the enclosed prisons.
Amai Mnangagwa said based on the success stories experienced at Connemara towards offender rehabilitation and reintegration, the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) saw it necessary to establish a similar facility for female inmates.
She said plans were afoot to establish open prisons countrywide, funds permitting.
“ . . . Government also approved the establishment of a purpose-built female open prison that not only meets the special needs of inmates but also serves as a vehicle for their rehabilitation and empowerment which is critical for enhancing their sustainable livelihoods. Premised on this determination, sites for the possible establishment of a female open prison were identified in Marondera and Mutare, hence today plans are afoot to build similar prisons countrywide.
“As the patron of Female Open Prison Foundation I am happy to acknowledge that Government is modernising the prison system to cater for the rights of inmates and also empower them with knowledge and some life survival skills which are wholly focused on helping to prepare them for a life upon discharge from our prisons and correctional institutions.”
Amai Mnangagwa toured the female section at the prison where inmates showcased some of their projects.
Commissioner- General of Prisons Major General Paradzai Zimondi (Retired) said there were about 20 000 inmates across the country’s prisons and of these, only 500 were female.
He praised the First Lady’s ongoing empowerment initiatives which he said boded well for national development.
“ . . . as the ZPCS we are appreciative and indebted to the invaluable cooperation provided by both the local and external partners towards this massive project. Indeed, this is indispensable for ensuring the successful day-to-day operation of the envisaged Female Open Prison,” he said.
“Today’s ceremony signifies the take-off of the much-awaited construction of our first ever state-of-the-art female open prison not only in Zimbabwe, and not only in the Southern African region but also across our African continent. The establishment of the female open prison is in tandem with the transitional shift from the closed prison system into the more open correctional system.”
Minister of State for Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs Appolonia Munzverengwi could not hide her excitement.
“I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for your unprecedented grace to descend from various places and positions to come for this auspicious occasion in our province. Mashonaland East is overwhelmed by the magnitude of commitment and love that is shown even in the radiance in your faces,” she said.
To kick-start the prison project, Tinmac company owned by Deputy Minister of Youth, Sport, Art and Recreation Tino Machakaire donated five Brahmans, UMAA institute founder Dr Cleopas Kundiona weighed in with $10 000 and Minister Munzverengwi donated two Dorper sheep and two Boer goats.
The ceremony was attended by several Government officials and civic organisations.